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The busy, post-presidential, life of George H.W. Bush is now documented by the person who saw it up close

A man is smiling in front of a dark background.
Jean Becker
/
used with permission

President George H-W Bush's longtime chief of staff has now documented Bush's life after his term in the White House. She'll be in Tallahassee to discuss the process Tuesday, Nov. 16.

Jean Becker's personal relationship with George Herbert Walker Bush spanned more than a quarter of a century. Her first encounter was with the then vice-president-running-for-president Bush in 1987. Seven years later, she would become President Bush's chief of staff. She would keep that title until his death in late 2018. It was the post-presidency years, following Bush's loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, that Becker writes about in her book, "The Man I Knew." It was a very busy time, as she recounts.

"He was exhausting, quite frankly. I loved it because it was a lot of fun and very gratifying to be part of his big life and all his projects and passions. But sometimes I just wanted to say, 'Oh, good gosh! I don't think we need to get involved in that.' And he would say, 'Of course we do. Of course, we need to do something!'"

That devotion to giving back should come as no surprise, said Becker, to anyone who remembers it was President George H.W. Bush who began the "Thousand Points of Light" initiative to promote volunteerism and public service.

"He used to say a lot in his speeches, 'Every definition of a successful life must include service to others.' And he walked the walk. He truly had a servant's heart."

Because Bush, said Becker, held a deep and somewhat old-fashioned conviction that those born into privilege have obligations.

"He was very painfully aware that during the heights of the Depression the chauffeur took him to private school. But he realized that because much had been given to him, then much was expected of him and connected to that also is what really made his desire to make a difference and give back."

Something else Bush had was a nearly superhuman capability to avoid carrying a grudge. Even when a guy named Bill Clinton cost him a second term.

"He got over it and got on with life in a very big way. And that included becoming best friends with the man who defeated him. And I'm asked a lot about the 'odd couple.' That's what Mrs. Bush called President Bush and President Clinton."

Jean_Becker_Headshot_v2_96ppi.jpg
Jean Becker/used with permission
Author Jean Becker

Becker insisted that the relationship was totally genuine. And almost impossible to imagine today, given the contemporary level of political vitriol.

"They loved each other! And at President Bush's funeral, I had to comfort President Clinton who was just sobbing before the service began. But how wonderful! Their friendship was talked about, not just here, but all over the world."

These are just a few of the highlights in Becker's account of George H.W. Bush's post-presidential years. She says if there is a central message she'd like readers to take away, it's this:

"That they should not be afraid of civility. They should not be afraid of civil discourse, that President Bush in his inaugural speech talked about— a 'kinder and gentler nation.' I'd like for them to be reminded of that."

Jean Becker will be in Tallahassee Tuesday evening. She'll talk about "The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George H.W. Bush's Post-Presidency" at Midtown Reader, starting at 7 pm.

(Editor's note: Midtown Reader is a frequent supporter of WFSU Public Media.)